OTTAWA — Federal officials are looking at ways to get money to community housing providers and the nation's renters, who may be hit hardest by the economic shock caused by COVID-19, and warning anyone already receiving housing funding to refrain from evictions.
Providers that have federal funding agreements are being told they won't see cuts to their financial help from Ottawa as deals expire in the coming weeks, said a government source who was not authorized to speak publicly about the measures.
Officials are considering a financial backstop for other providers so they can cover operating costs if tenants can't pay rent as a result of COVID-19, said a source with knowledge of the discussions, who asked for anonymity to detail private conversations.
Another government source who was not authorized to detail behind-the-scenes talks said there is an ongoing push with at least six provinces to quickly sign up for a new rent supplement to avoid evictions for hundreds of thousands of households who rent.
For most of the efforts underway, the results will take time to unfold. So the Liberals are emphasizing the measures they expect to get approved Tuesday when the government asks the opposition parties to rapidly approve a $27-billion spending package, with a further $55 billion in tax breaks and available credit.
The Senate is scheduled to deal with the legislation on Wednesday.
"We know that there are significant pressures on Canadians right across the country who are facing bills coming in, who are facing pressures on caring for their families," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday when asked about the situation facing renters.
"That is why we are working extremely quickly to get money out the door and into the pockets of Canadians during this extraordinary time."
Research from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said just under half of renters in this country, or 1.6 million households, might have only enough money saved in the bank to pay their bills for a month or less. A further quarter, roughly 830,000 households, don't have enough income to get through a single week without pay, says an analysis released Monday.
The report argues that the federal spending help, which will hit households in weeks, may come too late for many renters.
COVID-19 has produced a rapid downshift in the economy as businesses are forced to close and Canadians asked to stay home, which has led to a sharp drop in consumer spending and a sharp jump in claims for employment insurance benefits. Last week alone, the government received 500,000 new EI claims.
Many people who file for employment insurance are able to find new jobs before very long, in normal times. But the Conference Board of Canada estimated in a report of its own Monday that the economy could shed more than 330,000 jobs between April and October, which would raise the unemployment rate to 7.7 per cent.
Many of the hardest-hit sectors employ many of the nation's renters or those who live in subsidized housing.
Jeff Morrison, president of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, said federal income-support measures need to get out the door as quickly as possible, while private landlords need to demonstrate some flexibility by allowing rent deferrals.
"For non-profit providers, I'm confident they will not evict, but for them the question becomes how can they pay their bills and keep their lights on," he said. "In the worst-case scenario, you may see foreclosures and that contributes to homelessness."
NDP housing critic Jenny Kwan, in a letter to the cabinet committee overseeing the government's response to COVID-19, asked for a nationwide moratorium on all evictions — as Ontario has done — and on rent increases. That would require provinces to issue such orders.
"The situation is incredibly serious and people shouldn't have to worry about keeping a roof over their heads in the middle of a public health emergency," she said.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which administers much of the federal government's national housing strategy, said in a note to clients on Monday that any organization it funds should suspend evictions until the situation improves.
The government is also asking private landlords to "exercise compassion and refrain from evictions," said the minister who oversees federal housing efforts.
"CMHC is also working with landlords and housing providers affected by COVID-19 to find appropriate solutions for them," Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen said in a statement.
"We expect any housing provider who has received financing or support from CMHC, directly or via provinces and territories, to act compassionately and refrain from eviction."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2020.